Ghostbusters fight gender bias

LOS ANGELES • Sony Pictures needs to keep male moviegoers interested in its Ghostbusters reboot after an Internet attack on its female cast. Mrs Hillary Clinton wants women to throw their support behind her presidential campaign.

In a strange confluence, those agendas risk colliding this week on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. To the surprise of Sony, DeGeneres announced on May 17 that her talk show had booked Mrs Clinton - a friend, political ally and repeated past guest - to appear today on an episode for which she had already scheduled the Ghostbusters stars Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon.

"Get your Woman Cards ready," DeGeneres wrote on Twitter to her 60 million followers, a reference to Republican contender Donald Trump's criticism that Mrs Clinton had relied on playing "the woman's card".

The show's website added: "This Wednesday, Ellen's sitting down with some powerful women!"

For Mrs Clinton, her identification with a hip, and somewhat younger, group of actresses is a chance to score points with younger female voters. On the heels of DeGeneres' tweet came a fan-made follow-up post showing a smiling Mrs Clinton in a Ghostbusters jumpsuit standing next to Mr Trump as the film's gluttonous Slimer.

DeGeneres is to tape Mrs Clinton and the Ghostbusters cast separately. That may help to minimise any alignment between the film and her campaign, though DeGeneres' enthusiasm for both is obvious.

The Ghostbusters reboot opening in July stars (from left) Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

But the not-quite-joint appearance came as less-than-welcome news to Sony, whose marketing team has been fighting to tamp down what it sees as a misogynistic, Internet-based assault on the movie.

The first trailer for the new film, released in early March, became the most disliked trailer in YouTube history after a coordinated campaign by a group of mostly male naysayers.

In the best of circumstances, film studios are reluctant to let a big-budget film - Ghostbusters cost more than US$150 million (S$207 million) to make - become identified with a political candidate.

Mr Trump, who must overcome major weaknesses among female voters, has also shown a willingness to fuel the unwanted Ghostbusters gender debate.

"Now they're remaking Ghostbusters with only women," he said with derision in a recent video. "What's going on?"

Ms Amy Pascal, a producer of Ghostbusters, declined to discuss the Ellen booking or its potential perils for the film.

Warner Bros, which produces The Ellen DeGeneres Show, said no one involved with the show would comment.

In a statement, Mr Tom Rothman, chairman of the Sony motion pictures group, made light of the film's brush with politics. "All this attention is great, but I hope they realise that Slimer is not a registered voter," he said of those with an eye on the Ellen appearance.

From a business aspect, the new Ghostbusters, set for release on July 15 (July 14 in Singapore), carries oversize weight for Sony, which has been hurt by a shortage of blockbusters. The company urgently wants to resuscitate this franchise, with a separate animated Ghostbusters movie also in the pipeline.

Multiple people involved with the film, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures, said Sony secured the Ellen booking two months ago and that the studio was thrilled with the chance to promote Ghostbusters in such a positive, prominent setting.

The date for the appearance was mandated by the schedules of two of the actresses, Jones and McKinnon, who portrays Mrs Clinton as a humorous ball of unbridled ambition on Saturday Night Live, which concluded its season over the weekend.

In the months since the booking was made, Sony has found itself trying to douse an online brush fire over the film's female cast and overall decision to revisit the original film.

Just last week, the criticism flared anew, when a popular YouTube critic and the operator of Cinemassacre, a movie and video game fan site, announced that he would not review the film.

Sony has traced hostility towards Ghostbusters to a small number of fan sites that embedded the YouTube trailer. The studio found that a parallel trailer release on Facebook was overwhelmingly positive and actually was seen by more men than women, according to people briefed on the film.

The film's director, Paul Feig, has fired back at the critics on social media and male cast members from the original Ghostbusters - whose US$229 million in 1984 ticket sales would translate to about US$584 million today - have helped to mute the gender politics. Bill Murray, who has a cameo, has been openly supportive.

Even while swatting at armchair critics who dislike the notion of a female Ghostbusters, Sony and its film-making team have been weathering accusations of racial bias. Those have come from commentators who note that the three white female Ghostbusters are scientists or professionals, while the black partner, portrayed by Jones, is a transit worker.

"Why can't a regular person be a ghostbuster?" Jones responded on Twitter.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Ghostbusters fight gender bias'. Print Edition | Subscribe